God & Happiness in the Poor South

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A couple reports from the NYTimes tell the tale…

New York is dead last in a study published this month in Science Magazine ranking the happiest places in America. Researchers focused on two sets of information:

One was a survey of 1.3 million Americans done over four years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which asked people about their health and how satisfied they were with their lives. Those self-assessments were stacked against “objective indicators” borrowed from researchers at U.C.L.A. They included state-by-state variances on quality-of-life gauges like climate, taxes, cost of living, commuting times, crime rates and schools. When the two sets were blended, the economists discovered that the subjective judgments closely tracked the objective ones. In other words, people knew what they were talking about when they said if they were happy or not.

The findings suggest we like sunshine, clean air, reasonably priced housing, and painless commutes. Three out of four knock California down to 46. Louisiana ranks 1st; Mississippi 6th. Juxtapose that to this Pew ranking of the religiosity of states:

The polling organization recently released rankings on the religiosity of the states, based on 2007 survey responses to four questions: the importance of religion in people’s lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God.

Mississippi is the top-ranked in all four polling categories; Louisiana is 4th. Only two of the top 10 are outside of the South and those — Oklahoma is 7, Kentucky 10 — only marginally so. The least religious are New Hampshire, Vermont, Alaska and Maine. New York is 39.

For curiosity I looked up poverty rates. Mississippi ranks highest in the nation; Louisiana a close second. More evidence that money doesn’t buy happiness.

Discuss.

11 Comments

  1. As a NYCer, I say, what are you lookin at? You want us to be happy when they blow up our buildings and then want to disrupt our lives with a show trial? Never mind, we still have the Yankees.

  2. You know what they say: Ignorance is Bliss.

  3. South-bashing (or envy- and resentment-based Red State- or Sunbelt-bashing) mimics US-bashing from trashy critics abroad. It's hard not to notice the commonality.

    As for states and all they encompass, such as economic vitality, natural amenities, and so on — where would you relocate or start a new business nowadays, and what places have a future?

    More (properly) about this currently (of more interest than the bigger, obvious trends about the future)

    http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/release

  4. “we like sunshine, clean air”

    Those who are interested about natural amenities can learn more by examining reports on natural amenities which address rural areas in particular (such as for retirement, or for vacation homes or for recreation). Rural area reports let you avoid bias from any consideration of metro area lifestyle attractions or problems.

    Examples:

    a) Nation-wide: Measures (definitions) of natural attributes, other sections of report and entire report:

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer781/aer

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/AER781/

    b) Overall map:

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/NaturalAmenities/M

    c) Missouri natural amenities

    http://www.missourieconomy.org/researchandplann

    d) Nation-wide, same scheme as Missouri map above.

    http://www.missourieconomy.org/researchandplann

  5. I live in the South and much of it is, indeed, wonderful. What differentiates the South from the Northeast, West Coast and urban Midwest more than anything else is not the religiosity but the “take it easy” pace of life. With the exception of Atlanta, Dallas, and some Yankee-transplant-rich suburbs of Charlotte, Nashville and elsewhere, most Southerners actually take the time to smell the roses, as it were. In East Tennessee where I live people take the time in stores to strike up a conversation and chat about things. We like to joke about people called “lemmetellyasumthins” because before they tell you something they say “lemmetellyasumthin” and usually follow it up with “I'll tellya what” or “I done toldja.” Not surprisingly the only people outside the South who behave this way as a general rule are African Americans. Nobody gets impatient that they aren't “getting things done” faster. In other words, Southerners actually live life for the sake of living. They don't pride themselves on the Yankee work ethic, mind you. Nor do they heap scorn on their neighbors for failing to keep up an orderly lawn and “bringing the property values down.”

    The religiosity of the region is not the cause of Southern “happiness”; it's tangential to the “happiness” issue. And I say this as an agnostic Unitarian Jew who is as out of touch with mainstream Southern theology as possible. While the religiosity of the place can be a bit jarring at times it's not driven by some need to out the infidels or otherwise marginalize religious minorities (even if it sometimes feels that way). What defines Southern religiosity is its expressiveness as a shared sentimentality. And so I can pick my mandolin with a group of bluegrass gospel singers and feel the communal spirit – even if I don't share the theology.

  6. Elrod, that was an excellent comment! My family has mirrored the Southern migration. I grew up in Upstate New York (not to be confused with the big city). However, my parents retired to North Carolina, and haven't looked back. What's not to love? Their property taxes are much lower than they were in Western NY, snow comes maybe once per winter, and melts off quickly, and like you say, people take time with each other. Now I have two brothers who have joined them in NC and are glad they did.

    P.S. — What's a “Unitarian Jew”? Aren't all Jews unitarian?

  7. More like a very secular Jew in an interfaith marriage who attends a Unitarian Church.

    But, yes, the cost of living (not just taxes – housing costs in general) is much cheaper in the South. The locals are not exactly thrilled at the prospect of a massive Yankee invasion. And in places like NC it's completely altering the fabric of the place – especially in RTP, Charlotte and increasingly the Triad. Also, Asheville is a real island in western NC (though Boone is a mini-Asheville). On the TN side of the mountains there are fewer Yankee transplants, but the numbers are certainly growing – especially around the Tellico Village area.

  8. Excellent description of the region, Elrod. I've lived as well as traveled throughout the region and am familiar with it.

    I should add something small — others have an easy-going way to them, too. But then there's that dialect…it's almost criminal that the media are as they are, and people seek classes to “correct” it to be able to get a job on the air, even in Atlanta and the other cities you listed.

  9. “Not surprisingly the only people outside the South who behave this way as a general rule are African Americans.”

    Actually, there are others — but with African Americans, consider their heritage. What is soul food? Do you notice any special words and phrases they use, including “y'all”? (think old R&B hits)

  10. “North Carolina”

    The Oregon of the East, I told my former boss back in Phoenix…

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